Report shows steady decline in substance abuse in local youth

A recent report that looks at the health of B.C. youth shows improvements when it comes to injuries and substance abuse for local youth.

A recent report that looks at the health of B.C. youth shows improvements when it comes to injuries and substance abuse for students in the East Kootenay region.

The report is released every five years by the McCreary Centre Society.

“There’s been a steady decline in substance use,” said Dean Nicholson, executive director at East Kootenay Addiction Services Society. “The number of youth reporting using alcohol has dropped. The number of youth reporting using marijuana has dropped. And the other drugs that youth get tested for have dropped or are at such low levels that they are stable. No substance that was looked at had increased.”

The East Kootenay Addiction Services Society also does a survey, every two years, and this was the first year that both surveys came out in the same year.

“McCreary and I worked together on comparing our surveys,” Nicholson said. “It was nice to see that our results really mirrored what McCreary was seeing. Across Canada there has been a general decline in substance use.”

He said it is difficult to say whether it is just a trend that we’re going through culturally or real change.

“There’s been — certainly in the province and I think nationally — an attempt to shift the way substance use prevention is done — away from a fear-based scare tactic kind of thing to having it be much more about accurate information and discussion with the target group.”

He said engaging the target group in discussions has been positive in his experience.

“I think there’s been a tendency to say, especially with adolescents, drugs use, substance use is a problem period, without defining what do we mean by a problem and why is it a problem.”

For instance, he said that if someone is coming to meet with students and their assumption is students shouldn’t be using any substances or any substance use indicates a problem, then right away it’s going to be hard for them to engage with the kids.”

He said one of the reasons for that is that the kids will recognize that there is substance use amongst their peers and for many of them are not experiencing problems.

“I think we’re recognizing that a more helpful goal is to honestly engage with kids about what their experience is,” he said. “And come from a position of honest knowledge brokers and encouraging discussion.”

The study found that although local students were more likely than their peers across the province to have tried tobacco, alcohol or marijuana, there were local decreases in the percentages who had done so.

“There has been a big emphasis on reducing tobacco use. That’s been a 20 year project or more, and we’ve seen a decrease,” he said. “Also in B.C. we have some of the toughest drinking driving laws, so I think there’s been a message of safety and in some cases there are going to be harsh penalties from a legal perspective around the safety aspect, not necessarily around whether using is right or wrong.”

In the past year, the study found a third of students were injured seriously enough to require medical attention. This percentage was higher than the rate across BC for both males (37 per cent vs. 30 per cent provincially) and females (29 per cent vs. 24 per cent provincially). However, this was a local decrease, from 43 per cent in 2003 and 38 per cent in 2008.

More than one in five students experienced a concussion in the past year (26 per cent of males vs. 17 per cent of females). Mirroring what was seen provincially, 16 per cent of youth who had a concussion had not accessed needed medical help.

There are concerns raised about mental health aspect.

Mental health results showed that 27 per cent of East Kootenay girls and 19 per cent of boys reported a mental health condition. Those include Depression, ADHD or Anxiety Disorder. The study found that girls were also more likely than boys to have deliberately harmed themselves in the past year, and to have seriously thought about and attempted suicide.

A copy of the report “Easy Kootenay: Results of the 2013 BC Adolescent Health Survey” can be obtained at www.mcs.bc.ca.

The East Kootenay Addiction Services Society report can be viewed at www.ekass.com.